Lactate Testing Adventures. Part 2.

By April 3, 2013Coaching, Fitness, Triathlon

As before stated, I love getting pricked in the finger.  Especially when it helps me get faster and stronger…

What is this finger-pricking business about?

My coach employs a philosophy of lactate-testing-based training.  He uses periodical lab testing of blood lactate, heart rate and power data, to determine an athlete’s training needs and responsiveness. This approach is founded on a basic principle of exercise physiology recognizing the body’s aerobic and anaerobic energy-production systems.  At rest, and during low-intensity exercise, when sufficient oxygen is taken in, our bodies break down glucose for ATP (energy) through aerobic glycolysis.  As exercise intensity increases, and oxygen is less available, the anaerobic glycolysis pathway begins to takeover, and lactic acid is produced.  Contrary to popular belief, research has not shown lactic acid to be responsible for muscle soreness or fatigue.  Rather, lactic acid can actually be recycled as a fuel source!

As lactic acid is increasingly produced, lactate (a byproduct) accumulates in the blood.  Blood lactate is often measured in order to determine an increase in anaerobic glucose metabolism.  A relatively low blood lactate concentration (usually less than 1 mmol/L) is observed at rest and into low-intensity efforts.  As effort increases, lactate levels rise.  The point at which lactate begins to rise steadily is often known as the “lactate threshold.”  Additionally, as exercise continues to increase, the slope of lactate accumulation become more pronounced.  This spike is referred to by Coach Gareth as “steady state threshold,” but often has other names.

How do you use the lactate profile?

A lactate profile graph of peed/power vs. blood lactate (and heart rate) can be used to determine the point (speed/heart rate/power) at which an athlete begins accumulating lactate, the point at which it rises more rapidly, and other data points.  This information can be evaluated in order to determine training needs, and to contrast with previous tests to assess improvements/setbacks.  For example, I can see on both tests below (comparing results of December 2012-red, and March 2013-black) that my heart rate is lower at equal intensity/speed, and my lactate is simultaneously lower throughout.  Additionally, I lasted longer in the later test, with an increased maximal heart rate, intensity, and lactate.  *An increase in maximal lactate accumulation, in addition to lowered lactate at identical speed/intensity, is another observed effect of training!

So, with the lactate profile, a coach can adapt training to fit needs.  If the lactate rises super soon, it is a sign that more easy “aerobic” training is needed to defer the point at which anaerobic systems are turned on.  If aerobic systems are well-trained, but the athlete rapidly spikes in lactate after lactate begins accumulating, it may be that more “lactate threshold” efforts need to be practiced, to defer the “steady state threshold.”  If an athlete simply cannot complete a test and achieve a “steady state threshold” or the plateau afterwards, perhaps more high-intensity work needs to be employed in order to exercise anaerobic systems and gain peak performance efficiency or “top end.”  (While I am not yet an expert in interpreting lactate profiles, these are my basic observations).

What good is heart rate monitoring?

Lactate profiling serves as a major means of determining “heart rate zones” which are used by coaches and athletes as a rough gauge of training exertion.  Using the lactate profile, an “aerobic” and other heart rate zones (e.g. lactate threshold, steady state threshold, etc) can be determined.  Athletes can use these zones as guidelines when training, while keeping in mind that heart rate is effected by various other factors, and is not always the “perfect” gauge.

Beyond training zones, heart rate monitoring is very useful for determining general well being.  Resting heart rate, if taken regularly at the same time (ideally first thing in the morning), can be a great tool for measuring recovery and general stress.  A higher-than-normal heart rate, suggesting greater stress and increased working of the heart to deliver blood to the body, can indicate a need for complete rest, extra recovery days, or lighter training.  As one adapts to training and improves fitness, resting heart rate often decreases.

What does a lactate profile look like?

Here are the numbers from my bike and run lab results last month–thanks Gareth for the massive improvements!

Top lines= heart rate, bottom= lactate; red=December, black= March

*new minimum lactate is 0.5mm lower and maximum lactate is 1.2 higher!

A tidbit from Coach Gareth’s Trio site:

SPORTS SCIENCE IS VITALThe lab testing (which is compulsory for Coach Gareth athletes) teaches us what stimulus the body requires to gain fitness and how the body has reacted to a certain training program. From here accurate training using heart rate, power/ pace and rate of perceived exertion can be created to maximize available time. Coach Gareth’s TRIO performance lab offers a wide range of metabolic testing services. 

While I was in the lab for my run test last week, I stole a couple of precious moments:

G, taste-testing one of my “Char Char’s Bars”
G, in full Trio mode, analyzing lactate data

How can I get tested?

If you’d like to know more about lactate testing science, how it can help any athlete, or how to make an appointment to have your very own lactate profile with coach G, feel free to comment, or check out the facebook page and send me a message.  Or, check out the Trio site.

Where can I get a heart rate monitor?

Heart rate monitors have become very popular in endurance sports, and thus are widely available.  Most  triathlon/sporting good stores carry them.  A couple of good brands that carry heart rate straps and compatible watches include Garmin, Soleus, and Polar.  Check out your local store or look online.  Shop around for the ideal watch that will monitor your heart rate, track miles, pacing, or other desired functions.  Personally, I have used Garmin for years, and have been very satisfied.  However, if given the chance, I am sure other brands might win my heart (and its bpm).

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